Woman Sues Mayor For Order Demanding She Remove City Links From Her Website

from the abuse-of-power dept

GigaLaw points us to the news of a lawsuit filed by a woman in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, against that city’s mayor and other officials for demanding that she remove links to the city’s police department from her website. The woman believes that the demand was in response to her own support of an effort to recall the mayor.

Apparently, sometime after this effort, the mayor’s secretary asked the city attorney if it was legal for the woman to link to the city’s police department website from her web design company’s website (totally separate from the website about the mayor’s recall). The city attorney told the mayor that a link is perfectly legal — but offered to send a cease-and-desist anyway, which the mayor approved. The woman says she felt threatened in getting a cease-and-desist from the mayor’s office and took the link down.

From the facts presented in the article, this certainly sounds like an abuse of power. There’s nothing inherently illegal in just linking to someone else’s website, and it appears the city attorney even knew this. So it looks like the mayor and the city attorney decided to send the cease-and-desist anyway to intimidate the woman — which worked (at least temporarily). While it’s not clear if this woman will be able to win any damages, it’s good to see her fighting back against what appears to be an abuse of power.

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Comments on “Woman Sues Mayor For Order Demanding She Remove City Links From Her Website”

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48 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Can You Say.....

You can go on if you wish, but you’re already wrong on all of those counts. A C&D is not extortion, and it’s not abuse of the legal process. It can, and often does, include the threat of a lawsuit, and may even mention potential monetary damages. However, none of that makes it extortion, or “demanding money with menaces.” And one can only commit perjury under oath.

Much as you may wish it so, saying “Stop it, or I’ll sue” is not illegal.

Hulser says:

Re: Re: Can You Say.....

Attorneys regularly send out cease-and-desist letters without any legal standing to do so. There is nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about attempting to intimidate the opposition by sending a C&D. In fact, it’s pretty standard practice.

Just in case your comment is not an attempt at trolling…

1) Do you honestly think there is nothing wrong with a lawyer sending out a cease and desist letter even if the lawyer knows that there is no legal basis for it? If so, you and I have a very different definition of what’s right and wrong because this seem to be to be a textbook definition of “wrong”.

2) Are you seriously suggesting that because something is “standard practice” that it’s not illegal, immoral, or unethical? I think that is the foundation of many of the TD posts, that many practices of organizations like the RIAA are “standard” but are in fact immoral, unethical and probably even illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Can You Say.....

1) I didn’t say I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, just that lawyers do it all the time.

2) Lawyers have been sending threatening letters since paper was invented. And although you or I may find the practice objectionable, that doesn’t make it wrong. It also doesn’t make it immoral or unethical. It may violate your ethics, and you may even find it morally offensive, but that still doesn’t make it unethical or immoral. And that certainly doesn’t make it illegal.

The behavior of the RIAA is somewhat different. Saying “Pay me $3500 or I’ll sue,” is, in my mind, extortion, and it’s also unethical (even by lawyer standards) and immoral. But this C&D wasn’t “Pay me or I’ll sue” it was “Stop it or I’ll sue.” Big difference.

Hulser says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Can You Say.....

1) I didn’t say I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, just that lawyers do it all the time.
Here’s your quote…

There is nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about attempting to intimidate the opposition by sending a C&D.

Unless you’re going to try and say that morality and ethics are different from right and wrong, it certainly looks like you did say that there’s nothing wrong with sending out a cease and desist letter even when you know there’s no legal foundation for it.

It may violate your ethics, and you may even find it morally offensive, but that still doesn’t make it unethical or immoral. And that certainly doesn’t make it illegal.

You seem to be making the argument that just because I find something unethical, that it’s not necessarilly unethical. Of course ethics and morality are subjective, so if something violates my ethics, but definition, I find it unethical. Do you think that when people say something is unethical, they’re really saying that they believe that every human on the planet is in universal agreement that something is wrong? No, it means they think it’s unethical.

Besides, I don’t think I’m the only one who things that this is wrong. Just because very few people are suprised to hear that many lawyers are sleazebags who will do unethical things like send out unfounded cease and desist letters, it doesn’t mean that people think it’s right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Can You Say.....

Just because it is standard practice doesn’t making it legal, moral, or ethical.

In fact, you can get disbarred for sending a C&D after telling your client the target is not breaking any laws.

In fact, it is immoral to intimidate someone you know is doing nothing wrong.

In fact, it is unethical for a lawyer to do both, and for a Mayor who is elected by those people to act against their interests.

You sir, are either a troll or a bad lawyer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Can You Say.....

In fact, it is immoral to intimidate someone you know is doing nothing wrong.

It isn’t always about someone doing something “wrong,” a very subjective term. It’s more often about one party doing something the other party doesn’t like — “right” and “wrong” have little to do with it.

In fact, you can get disbarred for sending a C&D after telling your client the target is not breaking any laws.

There are thousands of cases filed daily, where no law was broken, yet a lawsuit resulted. Often, the lawsuit was preceeded by a cease & desist letter, simply because one party did something the other party didn’t like. So while your statement may be true, there’s nothing in this article or the linked article that indicates the woman was told she was breaking the law.

If you’re my neighbor, and you drive over a small part of my lawn every time you pull into your driveway, is a law being broken? Probably not. But is it offensive to me? Probably. What are my options? I can ask you to stop. If you don’t, then I can ask my lawyer to ask you to stop. He’ll do so by sending a cease & desist letter, which may threaten a lawsuit, and point out the potential liability that could be incurred as a result.

Yes, it’s a threat, and yes, it’s intended to intimidate. But it’s the ethical responsibility of a lawyer to zealously represent his/her client, so that’s not going to change any time soon.

You sir, are either a troll or a bad lawyer.

Neither, but thanks for offering your opinion.

Motown says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Can You Say.....

Although the specific laws may vary from state to state, generally, driving over someone’s lawn, even a small part of it, is considered unlawful tresspass. It is both offensive and illegal. On-the-other-hand, if a person parked their van in a legal parking spot in front of your house, obstructing a view that you like (a pretty valley, the sexy neighbor sunbathing, whatever), you might not like it. You may even find it offensive. But few people would say the van driver is wrong. And any lawyer who would write up a C&D order against the driver is either woefully unskilled or just taking your money. On-the-other-other-hand, what if you were the mayor of the town?

Hulser says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Can You Say.....

But few people would say the van driver is wrong. And any lawyer who would write up a C&D order against the driver is either woefully unskilled or just taking your money.

…or unethical or immoral.

Motown, your version of the analogy is spot on. In AC’s version of the analogy, the van driver was doing something illegal. So of course there’s nothing wrong with a cease and desist order in the case. But there’s nothing illegal with linking to a web site, especially a government web site. The crux of the problem with the cease and desist letter in this case is that the lawyer who wrote it up admits that the linking was legal. So, this has nothing to do with “the ethical responsibility of a lawyer to zealously represent his/her client”. It’s about how lawyers go about doing this and whether or not they’re accountable to a higher authority than the whims of their clients.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: Re: .htaccess

Well if you bothered to read the subject, .htaccess…
Perhaps you would do well to understand something beyond your area of expertise before coming to an issue of law. To inform you, .htaccess files can be configured to deny incoming links from specific sites/ip addresses. There was absolutely no reason to involve the law and an attorney when someone could have just set the web server to deny incoming links from her site. Rather, they went the litigious route. Hope it bites them in their own asses.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The woman says she felt threatened in getting a cease-and-desist from the mayor’s office and took the link down. “

Yeah thats what a cease and desist letter is intended to do. I would hope most thinking citizens would know when they are in the right or wrong here, but can easily see how a normal citizen could be so easily intimidated by the government about a technical issue like this. This lady however is supposed to be a “web development profesional” and as such really should not be so easily fooled.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“…This lady however is supposed to be a “web development profesional” and as such really should not be so easily fooled.”

Huh. So it is standard for every professional to know the legal ins and outs of their own industry? What a crock. If we did, there would be no need for lawyers. Most working professionals slapped with a C&D would do the same thing… At least the first time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“So it is standard for every professional to know the legal ins and outs of their own industry?”

At some very basic level I would say yes, it is. This is part of being a “professional”, understanding at the least the basics regarding rules, regulations and the standards of your industry.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It is almost impossible to avoid the minefield of litigation in today’s world. Case in point, this woman did Absolutely Nothing illegal, and is being threatened by an attorney/mayor. There are way too many gray areas of law to fully understand the consequences of innovating. It is very destructive to the incentive to create something in today’s age. This destruction is leveraged (as witnessed here) by the mere threat of the financial repercussions of a lawsuit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Unfortunately, that’s how the civil courts work. Often, the mere threat of a lawsuit is enough. And in civil cases, no law needs to be broken; only the possibility that someone was somehow “wronged” need exist (and the definition of “wronged” has certainly been stretched to the limit).

When you get right down to it, it seems odd to call it a “civil suit.” There’s generally nothing civil about it.

Benjie says:

Unethical

“2) Lawyers have been sending threatening letters since paper was invented. And although you or I may find the practice objectionable, that doesn’t make it wrong. It also doesn’t make it immoral or unethical. It may violate your ethics, and you may even find it morally offensive, but that still doesn’t make it unethical or immoral. And that certainly doesn’t make it illegal. “

Scaring someone into doing something they don’t want to do is unethical. Asking her to stop is one thing, but demanding it is another.

eg. I’m gonna scare you into giving me money, or mowing my lawn, or quiting your job. She felt legally threatened by something that she shouldn’t have to because there is nothing illigal about what she did. Also the Mayor’s position of power could be itimidating being that even if they couldn’t legally persue the issue, they could try to dig up dirt or pull strings to make her life much worse off(If the president told you to stop something even if it wasn’t illigal, would you? I sure would with all the abuse of power these days). Someone in a position of power can really mess up your life before someone notices and slaps them on the wrist and tells them to stop.

Anonymous Coward says:

This wasn’t a lawyer in private practice, or even the mayor’s personal lawyer. It was the City Attorney. While this may be common practice between private citizens and entities, here it is the State that says “stop or we’ll sue”, and the State knows its perfectly legal. Fact is, this is an abuse of governmental power that could certainly be illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Abuse issue . .

The cease and desist letter in and of itself I don’t find terribly upsetting. It is just a letter asking for an action to be stopped (threatening, demanding, etc these things are nuance and I have not read the letter). There may be an issue here though as the mayor is not just a private citizen, but an elected official. The city attorney may also be an elected official and if so I think he may be crossing the line here. While I would accept this from a private attorney representing a private client, I cannot say the same thing about elected officials who are supposed to represent “the people”.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: Abuse issue . .

“The cease and desist letter in and of itself I don’t find terribly upsetting. It is just a letter asking for an action to be stopped (threatening, demanding, etc these things are nuance and I have not read the letter).”

Except that her action was perfectly 100% legal. Especially considering that the public most likely paid for the content.

Hulser says:

Re: Re: Utopia

Hate to break it to you, but this kind of immoral bullying and looking out for the bottom line occurs in almost every profession, including doctors (unnecessary operations, charges, etc.) and manufacturers (buying up a patent and stopping production to protect your bottom line). And we tolerate it.

Sure, unethical behavior happens in professions other than the legal one, but at least those other professional have enough sense of decency to lie about it. I think the point that Jim is trying to make is that when a lawyer does something unethical — such as send a cease and desist letter in regards to something they know to be legal — it’s tolerated moreso than other professions.

I wonder if the lawyer that wrote up that cease and desist letter even gave it a second thought. Maybe he thought it was OK because “everyone else is doing it”, not realizing that most people would consider it unethical.

TheDock22 says:

This lady is an idiot

This lady is filing a frivolous lawsuit over something so stupid I think SHE needs to be jailed. She felt threatened over a cease-and-desist letter? PLEASE! All it did was anger her into retaliation. She did not feeling “threatened” as in “her livelihood or life may end at the hands” of the city. Ridiculous! Cease-and-desist orders do not cost us tax payers money, but now I DO have to dish out some money because she wants revenge. Grow up lady.

Plus I think it is perfectly reasonable to request somebody remove a link from their website. If a porn site was linking to a children’s school website I bet a bunch of people would be up in arms. If you own your website you should have control over who links to your website. Period.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: This lady is an idiot

Perhaps we should all just shut up and do what opposing lawyers tell us we should do ? Was our country not founded on fighting for what was right ? Giving up lives to take freedom? She is free to link to whomever she like. As noted previously, if a porn site links to a school, the school can block the inbound link (without even consulting/notifying the linking site). Plucking a citizen out of the web and making a case where no infraction takes place is the travesty here. Clearly you want such a harsh punishment for the innocent, but you claim no such punishment for the guilty. In fact you suggest she just “grow up”. I suggest you take your own advice.

DanC says:

Re: This lady is an idiot

Plus I think it is perfectly reasonable to request somebody remove a link from their website.

Asking someone to take down a link is reasonable, I suppose. Demanding that they do so is simply unreasonable. And expecting anyone to comply with such a request is wishful thinking at best.

If a porn site was linking to a children’s school website I bet a bunch of people would be up in arms.

Not liking something doesn’t mean it’s illegal, nor does it mean it should be. Plus, the site could be charged with encouraging illegal acts or some such, which makes more sense than charging them for the simple act of linking.

If you own your website you should have control over who links to your website. Period.

Uh, what? Sorry, but the internet doesn’t provide that unnecessary level of control, nor should it. Linking to another website is approximately the equivalent of word-of-mouth. If you don’t want someone looking at your site, put it behind a password. You are looking for a closed system with plenty of gatekeepers to stifle the flow of information. The internet does not meet your requirements. Sorry.

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